Positioning Graphics for Successful Installation
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Positioning Graphics for Successful Installation

Excerpt from PDAA Vinyl Installation Proficiency Guide

By Rob Ivers

The following is an excerpt from SGIA's Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDAA) Vinyl Installation Proficiency Guide, which was created by PDAA as both a reference for graphics installers and a study guide for installers seeking to improve their proficiency. It is available free to PDAA members. PDAA is an alliance of independent and in-house graphics installers that operates under the umbrella of SGIA. PDAA provides its members proficiency-based certification, tools for successful business growth and connects imagers and installers to provide total imaging solutions.

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  • Every aspect of the graphics application process is critical to a successful installation, and proper placement of the graphics is no exception. There are too many variables for PDAA to make recommendations for each situation. It's enough to say you need to place the graphics accurately. Here are a few of the methods employed by PDAA members to "dry fit" or lay things out prior to application and to anchor the graphic in the correct position as they begin the application.

    Masking Tape Hinge Methods
    There are several variations of the hinge method in common use including top, side or end, center and bottom. In each case, the graphic is originally placed on the surface (with the liner still on) and moved into the proper position, usually by measuring with a tape measure. Masking tape is placed on the four corners to hold it in place. The graphic must be taut, which is accomplished by lifting one corner at a time, pulling it tight and then re-attaching the corner with the masking tape.

    Next, the main hinge is added by applying masking tape half on the graphic, half on the surface.

    Figure 2

    The tape is removed from the bottom two corners, allowing the graphic to be lifted up to start removing the liner while the top hinge keeps the graphic anchored in the proper position. This technique would be appropriate if the graphic were quite large. Rather than removing the entire liner, an installer would lift the graphic up and carefully cut the graphic (so as not to cut the substrate), paper and all, between each letter or group of letters. This would allow installation of one or two large letters at a time. The liner would start at the top, next to the hinge and pull down. Each letter would be squeegeed horizontally, from the center out to the edges, working from top to bottom.

    This brings up another key point when using hinges: Always apply the hinge parallel to the direction you intend to squeegee. Using this example as a guide, you can figure out how and when to use the hinge on other edges when appropriate.

    Modified Side Hinge
    Anyone who plans to take the PDAA Master Certification test should find this example as an ideal method for approaching the Acrylic Test. It was submitted by our PDAA Certification Director, Rob Ivers, who began applying vinyl in 1978. He says: It's definitely old school, but it works. We did not have air egress technology the first 23 years I was in the business. Our customers did not want bubbles or wrinkles any more then than they do now, so we really had to learn how to install vinyl well. Using this method, you can apply some very sticky vinyl on some very hot surfaces and live to tell about it. All kidding aside, if you master this technique you will be a much better installer. Most installers, even very talented ones, struggle with this test unless they use this exact method. Of course, I have done it quite a few times, but using this method, I can do a virtually perfect installation of the Acrylic Test in about ten minutes. It takes most people thirty minutes to an hour and they struggle, because no one ever taught them this method. I hope it helps.

    Let's say you are faced with installing a large graphic by yourself and the initial tack of the graphic is quite aggressive and does not have air egress. Here is a method that provides the safest, most risk-free way to apply a graphic. Start by taping it as shown in Figure 3.

    Figure 3

    One at a time, move the four corner tapes to these new positions. Next, lift up the right edge of the graphic to the closest tape hinges as shown. Tuck the exposed liner on the right underneath the graphic and push it under as far as you can. Crease it very lightly so it lays a little flatter, but not too tight. If you crease it flat, it defeats the whole purpose of this technique. This method should prevent you from ever having to take off all of the tape at one time, and the slight curvature of the liner will keep the vinyl from touching until you squeegee it, giving you maximum control.

    Pull the exposed area back to its original position as shown in and tack it lightly in three places, away from the edges (in case you need to lift it, it makes it easier to grab) as indicated by the gray dots in the image. Then start to squeegee in the location indicated by the arrows from the middle up, and from the middle down as shown. Do not start on the edge. Instead, start in 3-4 inches, where the graphic should look smooth and tight. If it doesn't, do not squeegee it, but re-tension the corners.

    Then, quickly (starting at the top of the area you just squeegeed) squeegee from left to right in quick, short strokes, finishing the loose right edge, working from top to bottom.

    NOTE: If you are left-handed, start on the left side instead of the right side.

    The rest is simple and very repetitious, until you get near the end. Here are some tips:

    • Peel the liner from right to left, squeegee up from the middle and down from the middle.
    • Never squeegee right up to the liner; always leave a squeegee width. When you get that close, stop and peel some more liner away.
    • Remove the top and bottom masking tapes as you approach them, making it easier to remove the liner.
    • If the graphic develops some slack to your left in the unapplied areas, which it will, undo all of the tape and re-tension the graphic hitting the marks you made and press the remaining masking tape down snug to hold it in place.
    • If you taped it as shown, pretty soon the liner will be sticking out on the left as shown.
    • The gray color indicates the part that has not been squeegeed. As the liner to the left of the graphic gets in your way, just cut some off. When you get close to the end, remove the rest of the masking tape, while maintaining slight tension on the graphic, and do not let it touch!
    • Hold the graphic with your left hand low and close to the surface without touching, and quickly squeegee again up and then down.
    • Stop when you are 3-4 inches from the edge and squeegee from right to left (starting at the top in the area you just squeegeed) and squeegee from left to right in quick, short strokes, finishing the loose left edge, working from top to bottom.
    • Carefully remove the premask at a 180 angle, keeping it flat on itself, to prevent or minimize lifting of the graphic.
    • Inspect the graphic. If you see thousands of small bubbles, it means you had a lousy squeegee or you did not press hard enough. In either case, go home and come take the test later after you have really practiced. If you only see one or two bubbles, congratulations, you're almost done!
    • Poke the bubbles with an air release tool, push the air out, re-squeegee the entire graphic with a felt or similar non-scratching squeegee, and have the test administrator come grade your test. If it's any consolation, Rob said it's easier to do the test than to explain it on paper and create the illustrations.

    Floating Hinge Method
    This method will occasionally prove quite useful, especially if you do not have any masking tape.

    • Remove all of the liner
    • Reapply liner to graphic, offset slightly
    • Measure and place graphic in proper position
    • Anchor in place by squeegeeing exposed area
    • Lift unapplied graphic and remove all or part of liner and continue applying the graphic

    Peel & Slap
    Not a very cool name, but definitely the fastest way to apply graphics. Only use this technique when you are certain it will work. If you know you'll be able to lightly snap the graphic and re-tension it if required, without damaging the graphics, why mess with the slower peel-as-you-go methods?

    • Measure and place graphic in proper position
    • Anchor in place with masking tape if needed
    • Mark position of graphic
    • Remove all of the liner
    • Align the graphic to your marks
    • Make sure graphic is tight
    • Squeegee carefully (or like you are late for dinner if you prefer)

    Pro-Wrap Mags Magnetic Method
    This idea also was supplied by Rob Ivers and is definitely not "old school" this time. He has started using (and selling) magnets for positioning graphics on magnetic surfaces, like most vehicles. Below are some tips, uses and advantages of his Pro-Wrap Mags:

    • Two of these small magnets will hold up a large graphic panel on the side of a van.
    • Laying out the entire side of a vehicle prior to installation has never been quicker.
    • With the magnets in place, simply give the graphic a gentle pull to slide it into alignment and then let go and the magnets will hold it in place.
    • Once you have the graphic in position, use extra magnets (like you would a hinge), line-up 2-4 magnets across the graphic to securely hold it in place and pull the top down to start peeling the liner off.
    • Once you get the liner started, you can use some magnets to hold it up and tight against the vehicle, so you can peel the graphic down and away.
    • The nice thing is that you can do all of these things with just one person!

    Rob Ivers is the owner of Rob Ivers, Inc., a graphics installation and installation training business. He serves as the Professional Decal Application Alliance's Authorized Training and Certification Provider, and implements PDAA certification testing. He created the PDAA Certification Program which was adopted in 2001 by Arlon, Avery, FLEXcon, Mactac and Oracal. Ivers also sits on the PDAA Steering Committee. rob@robivers.com

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